GAA Football

Resurgent Tyrone survive Mayo fightback to ease relegation concerns

Peter Harte scored three first half points as Tyrone seized control of Saturday night's clash against Mayo at Healy Park. Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

Allianz National Football League Division One: Tyrone 0-11 Mayo 0-9

From Andy Watters at Healy Park

THERE were nervous moments at the finish, but Tyrone deserved the victory their best performance of this season delivered in Saturday night's All-Ireland final rematch.

A two-point win and the two points that came with it meant Tyrone pulled away from the relegation zone and, although they're not safe yet, they've given themselves a fighting chance of survival with next weekend's trip to Killarney to come.

The Red Hands were positive and up for the fight and the cutting edge of Peter Harte, Conor Meyler, Darragh Canavan and Frank Burns inspired them to a five-point lead at half-time; a deficit Mayo could not close despite a typically brave second half fightback.

James Horan's men left themselves too much to do in the second half and, apart from Ryan O'Donoghue, their forwards struggled against a strong Tyrone defence that looks much more solid since the return of Ronan McNamee.

Tyrone had a stiff breeze at their backs in the first half and with Cathal McShane and Darren McCurry operating as an inside forward duo they sent in an early, wind-assisted long ball. Mayo full-back David McBrien punched it clear but Tyrone picked up the loose ball and Frank Burns, who covered a lot of ground, scored off his right boot.

Mayo included only half-a-dozen of the team that started last year's Sam Maguire decider and used Aidan O'Shea at centre half-back but the experienced Breaffy clubman was overrun continuously as wave after wave of Tyrone attacks produced a series of excellent scores.

Harte played a clever one-two with the lively Darren McCurry and stroked over the second and, after Kieran McGeary had fired wide, Meyler split the posts from the left wing with an excellent finish.

Brian Kennedy's midfield industry was disrupting Mayo attempts to get back in the game and he rode tackles from Jordan Flynn and Paul Towey before Canavan, clever and creative, put Tyrone four ahead with a mark.

Mayo's first half display was as awful as their retro shorts and, after a free deep in Tyrone territory was aimlessly kicked away, Harte went bombing forward again. He swapped passes with McShane, who worked hard but looks short of his best, and Rory Brennan popped up on the right wing to smash a swerving shot over the bar.

As Mayo struggled to make headway into the wind, Tyrone's defence warmed to their task, forcing the westerners out to the flanks and into the corners. When Oisin Mullen did try to break through down the centre, Hampsey stepped in to snuff him out but Kennedy's foul on Fergal Boland enabled O'Donoghue to open Mayo's account with a free after 24 minutes.

Meyler replied with a repeat of his point from the left wing before McBrien broke from the back to set up Flynn for Mayo's first (and only) score from play in the half. Harte, the best player on the field up to half-time, added two more scores but O'Donoghue kept Mayo just about in touch with a free on the whistle.

Tyrone included the Donnelly brothers, Mattie and Richie, when they trotted out for the second half 0-8 to 0-3 in front and the Trillick siblings combined in the opening seconds to extend the gap to six.

But, not for the first time this season, Mayo looked a different team in the second half and they were soon thumping on the Red Hand door looking to get back into the game.

With Kennedy withdrawn at the break, the speedy Matthew Ruane broke from midfield and replied for the visitors and then O'Donoghue took the ball with his back to goal, turned and kicked a superb point as Mayo's comeback gathered momentum.

Tyrone, getting sucked into a battle, looked in danger of losing their way. Niall Morgan went through his entire free-kick routine before getting too cute with an attempt to play it short and Mayo forced a turnover and a breakaway attack that ended with Flynn curling over a monster effort.

Jack Carney's point was Mayo's fourth in-a-row and O'Donoghue's free after Morgan's kick-out went astray meant a single point separated the teams at 0-9 to 0-8.

It was end-to-end stuff now and Tyrone desperately needed a score. The industry and class of McCurry conjured one up but Mayo continued to force the pace and Morgan had to block O'Donoghue's soccer-style shot after Carney had burst through the Tyrone defence.

Kevin McLoughlin missed a good chance to leave one in it but referee Deegan spotted Hampsey's push on Darren Coen and O'Donoghue made a difficult free-kick look easy.

With a point between the teams and 10 minutes to go, it was anyone's game but Tyrone were able to take the sting out of it with a period of possession football that eventually led to a chance for the hard-working Conn Kilpatrick.

He sent it high and wide but then Richie Donnelly played in Canavan who switched from his right foot onto his left and stroked over the point of the game to put Tyrone two in front again.

There were groans from the stand as the fourth official signalled six minutes of injury-time and it was backs-to-the-wall stuff as Mayo tested the precarious nature of ‘the two-point lead'.

Carney shot wide, then O'Donoghue crossed but Morgan's safe hands meant Tyrone survived and there were only seconds left when the westerners forced a sideline ball deep in Red Hand territory.

O'Donoghue sent it high into the square and the ball broke to Carney. He swung his boot but his shot scuttled wide through the crowded goalmouth.

Relief for the Red Hands; there's life in them yet.

Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, P Hampsey, F Burns (0-1); C Meyler (0-2), R Brennan (0-1), P Harte (0-3); C Kilpatrick, B Kennedy; R McNamee, N Sludden, K McGeary; D McCurry, C McShane, D Canavan (0-2, 0-1 mark)

Subs: R Donnelly for Kennedy (HT), M Donnelly (0-1) for McShane (HT), N Donnelly for Sludden (57), L Rafferty for Brennan (62), B McDonnell for Canavan (72)

Mayo: R Hennelly; L Keegan, D McBrien, D McHugh; O Mullin, A O'Shea, S Coen; J Flynn (0-2), M Ruane (0-1); F McDonagh, P Towey, F Boland; A Orme, J Doherty, R O'Donoghue (0-5, 0-4 frees)

Subs: J Carney (0-1) for F McDonagh, K McLoughlin for Towey (HT), E Hession for McHugh (HT), D Coen for Doherty (57), C Loftus for Boland (68)

Referee: M Deegan (Laois)

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GAA Football